Protecting Your Family in Apartments or Rental Units

"We have an industry that for 40 years sold a product that was deadly, and said it wasn't, and sold a product that was addictive, and said it wasn't. And now they want to be granted immunity. I think that's wrong."

C. Everett Koop, M.D.
Former U.S. Surgeon General
Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Lungs

It is important to remember that smokers have either come to the false conclusion that smoking isn't that bad for them (or other people) or they are unable to control their addiction to nicotine. Either way, they generally do not understand the discomfort, irritation and health problems that their tobacco addiction brings to others.

While many nonsmokers become impatient and angry with smokers, we must realize that most smokers are victims. The tobacco companies, together forming a billion dollar indsutry, hires top market researchers, scientists and other professionals to influence the buying habits of potential consumers. Further, they pick on the weakest members of our society. Remember that that most smokers began smoking around 13-14 years of age. Many of these naive individuals have lower self-esteem, suffer social problems or come from less-stable home environments.

Therefore, be firm but understanding with smokers. Due to their addiction, they have lost track of reality. They wheeze, cough and spit up phlem as they are slowly killing themselves. Shortly after finishing their last cigarette their body begins demanding another. They no longer taste food as they used to; they cannot run or be athletic as they once could; and in general, they are a slave to this nasty habit.

How Smoking Affects You
Nonsmokers who live with or around smokers are more likely to develop cancer than other nonsmoking adults. Second-hand smoke can enter a dwelling through windows, gaps in walls, air spaces in light fixtures or through the ventilation systems. As a general rule, if you can smell smoke you may be exposed to the harmful toxins.

If you have asthma, second-hand smoke can make your breathing problmes worse.

Young children are especially sensitive to second-hand smoke. A baby who is exposed to second-hand smoke is more likely to have lung disease serious enough to need treatment in a hospital dunging the first two years of life.

Children exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to cough and wheeze and to have middle ear problems.

What You Can Do
This is a difficult time for apartment and rental unit residents. Most states have relatively clear laws that require facilities to be maintained in a safe manner. Yet many apartment owners and landlords are unwilling to take the necessary steps to protect their residents. Further, renters as a group are typically underrepresented in our political process.

Don't get frustrated. There is help, but it is important to take smart action.

First, don't try to do this alone. Landlords and management groups frequently have the ability to remove tenants who pose a political threat to their business.

Second, join a tenant association (who to contact). If there is not one in your complex or local area, create one. In New Mexico, for example, you only need two or more people to begin an association.

Next, have the leadership of the tenant association contact your landlord or property management group. This should be a formal contact and the material should be presented in writing. It is a good idea to send a copy of all the presented materials "Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested."

Once the landlord or property management group has been officially notified that a tenant association is involved, you, as an individual renter, are generally protected. Let the tenant association do the work for you.

As an individual, do not take action. Ask the tenant association to take steps for you. Have the association speak to the smokers who live near you; have the association speak to the property management or landlord for you.

Also, have the association take pictures and document the problem. Remember, it is best to work for a general property policy rather than a specific policy just for you. This prevents you from being singled out.


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